5 Reasons to Submit an Optional Essay

5 Reasons to Submit Optional Essay

Many business schools give applicants an opportunity to submit an optional essay in which they can share something about their candidacy that doesn’t appear elsewhere in their application. While this may seem like an open invitation, the optional essay should be used judiciously.

No matter what your gut may tell you that more is always better, in the case of your MBA application that is not the case. The admissions team is incredibly busy and writing an additional essay without a particular purpose just gives them more work. Instead of writing the optional essay just to show that you can, it should only be used to address specific situations and circumstances.

We spoke with Alex Brown, an MBA admissions consultant with Clear Admit who spent years working in MBA Admissions at University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School. “If the remainder of the application does a good job for a candidate, then leave out the optional essay,” explains Alex. “It is not an essay that should be used, if there is no reason to use it. Remember, using the essay increases the workload of the readers of the application. The optional essay is useful if there are additional issues that require explanation.” There are five reasons you should write the optional essay.

To Explain a Gap in Employment

When it comes to your MBA application, your previous employment and resume make up a large piece. If you have a time frame where you were unemployed, looking for work, pursuing other opportunities, or working in an industry that doesn’t match up with the remainder of your experience, you can explain these circumstances in your optional essay. “If you have weaknesses in your application, the optional essay can be useful to add context to those areas of the candidacy, and help mitigate the weakness in the mind of the application reviewers,” says Alex. “Don’t try to hide a weakness, face it head on.”

A gap in your employment history doesn’t have to be a weakness if you explain it correctly. Tell the admissions committee what happened, explain why your employment history looks the way it does, and then focus on how you made up for any perceived weaknesses in other ways. Maybe during your employment break you increased your leadership skills by volunteering at a non-profit, or you took classes to improve your education.

To Address Low Test Scores

A GMAT or GRE score that is not what you wanted is a great reason to write the optional essay. You can explain to the admissions team not only why you received a lower score but also how you plan to make up for the lower score. Are you a poor test taker? Do you work 80 hours a week and so have little time to study? Are you planning to take the test again to improve your score after submitting your initial application? Be honest but try not to focus on making excuses, instead focus on how other areas make up for your poor scores.

To Describe Extenuating Circumstances that Impacted GPA

“If your GPA is lower than average for the school, and there are circumstances that might help explain this, then address it in the optional essay,” Alex says. “As you address it, you need to reassure your readers that you now have the academic aptitude and motivation to be successful.” Don’t just state, “my GPA was bad because…” and leave it at that. The adcom wants to know what you have done since school to make up for any academic weaknesses. Have you taken classes, programs, or attended conferences to continue your education? Has your company offered opportunities for further education? Admit your faults but then always shift the focus to the positives.

To Explain Your Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are vital but sometimes you do not have the right recommenders. If you were unable to obtain a letter from your immediate supervisor, this is the perfect opportunity to explain the situation. “Another example of use for the optional essay is to explain your choice of your recommenders,” Alex explains. “If you cannot gain a recommendation from your immediate supervisor, you should address this here.” You can also use the essay to explain why you chose the recommenders you did if you believe your choices are far from average. For example, if you chose someone from your volunteer service instead of employment, explain why you made that choice.

To Explain a Unique Selling Point

The essay does not always have to be used to explain a weakness. If there is something unique about your experience that you have not had the opportunity to explain in any other part of your application, the optional essay is the perfect opportunity. For example, if you spent a year internationally to improve your experience in international business and communication and you have not had the chance to share about the experience, use the optional essay. The only key is not to use the optional essay just for the sake of using it. It should be short, to the point, and beneficial to your application.

“Using the optional essay to simply write another essay that you perhaps wrote for another school, but was not asked for by the school in question, well that’s a poor use of the optional essay, and will not be helpful,” says Alex.

When it comes to the optional essay, remember the key word, “optional.” “The optional essay is optional,” states Alex. “Only write something if something needs explaining. Either a weakness in the application, or the choice for recommenders and so forth. Keep it short and on point.”


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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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